Sunday, June 23, 2019

Snow-Covered Wheeler Peak Area in June 2019

 On June 18, 2019, I wanted to go take a look at the Wheeler Peak area--the campground, lakes, and bristlecones in Great Basin National Park. The only problem was that the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive was still closed due to a big snowpack and wet and cool May and June. That meant I had to start my hike at Upper Lehman Creek Campground and take the 3.4-mile steep trail up to the campground. I found that about a half mile of the trail was under water (see photo above for an example).

About half way up the trail is this beautiful meadow. I got there just after sunrise.

Farther up, the stream had taken over the trail again.

In a little less than two hours, I reached the Wheeler Peak Campground. The Lehman Creek trail had very little snow on it.

The campground was like another world, with snowbanks and little snow buttercups emerging.

Some campsites looked like this:

While others were all melted out.

The kiosk was rather snowy.

So was the trailhead. I started following tracks that led generally in the direction to Teresa Lake.

With some modifications, I was able to get there! (Note: for those not used to the area, I highly recommend using GPS, map and compass, or some other navigational system to get around this area. The trails are covered with snow and the footprints are not reliable.)

About half the lake was covered with just a thin coating of ice, indicating that it had been warm enough to melt off it. The logs also led credence to that idea.

I really liked the ice along the edges, as well as how transparent some of it was.

At the other end of the lake, the snow bank had partially collapsed at the inlet.

The west side of the lake was more frozen over.

Next I decided to go to Stella Lake. I took a roundabout way there, and ended up on the slope above Stella, where I got a close up look at this avalanche, caused by a collapsing cornice.

It was cool to look back and see my footprints.

Stella Lake was a different world from Teresa. It was still completely snow and ice covered.

I even walked out on the lake.

Here's a traditional photo from where the trail meets the lake.

The clouds had now gotten big and were making interesting shadows.

I decided to hike back to Teresa Lake and try to get to the bristlecones again.

While I was taking another snack break (I took a lot!), I saw the amazing reflection in the lake.

I found I couldn't follow the regular trail to the bristlecones, as it crossed a 60 degree snow slope. Instead, I had to drop lower and follow the moraine around. It wasn't easy.

I found an amazing tree on the way, with lots of wolf lichen on it.

I stayed there a bit, just in awe of the tree.

It was so gnarled and twisted.

On the backside I found wolf lichen decorating a cavity.

The curves were amazing.

I was waiting and waiting for the sun to illuminate it. I finally gave up and started hiking on. Then the sun came out, so I scurried back and caught this photo.

Eventually I reunited with the bristlecone trail and saw this iconic tree.

But then I lost the trail again and just wandered. It was so beautiful!

I found I really liked the dead trees and their unique shapes.

By this time I was wandering north, back to the trailhead. I was hoping to intersect Brown Lake. And then, off in the distance, I saw it!

After stumbling down the steep, snow-covered moraine, I arrived at the ice-free lake. Deep snowbanks lined the north-facing side.

Although the clouds looked threatening, I wasn't worried, the forecast was good for the day. But I didn't want to dawdle too much.

I continued on, cross-country to the north, stopping at this amazing tree.

Here's a close up of it's twisted growth pattern.

I arrived back at the campground and then took the wet trail down.

It had been a great day in the high country. It was the third week in June and yet still so snowy up there. Down lower, more flowers bloomed.

Now the Scenic Drive is open to the top, but it's still snowy. If you go, be prepared for rugged conditions, such as wet feet, no trails, postholing unexpectedly, and quick changes in temperature. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

Osceola and Upper Strawberry Trails, Great Basin National Parks

 As I prepare for my high-elevation marathon the end of July, I keep seeking out longer and longer runs on my weekends. This time I decided to join up the Osceola Trail and the Upper Strawberry Creek Trail in Great Basin National Park. I started on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. The Osceola Trail is 5.3 miles one-way, although the last mile is closed due to fire and flood damage. There's a detour that can be taken, the Osceola Cut-off Trail to the Sage Steppe Trail that then leads to the Upper Strawberry Trail, which is a little less than 2 miles one-way.

As I started on the Osceola Trail, I found that it was quite wet.

After a short access trail, I was at the ditch, which was built to move water from creeks around the mountain to the mining town of Osceola. This was back in the late 1890s. Many Chinese workers were instrumental in completing the ditch. It was a long ditch over tough terrain, including flumes over rocky sections and even a tunnel. Even more remarkable is that this was the second attempt--they first tried building a ditch on the other side of the mountain, but the creeks over there just didn't have enough water in them.

With the wet winter and spring, the Osceola Ditch has water in it again!
Some sections were quite wet!

Near the beginning is a very rocky part with old wooden support structures.

Before long, you're walking (or jogging) right in the ditch.

Just over a mile from the trailhead is Mill Creek, a small creek with some pretty cascades. It's claim to fame is that it was a refugium creek for Bonneville cutthroat trout. The ditch may have helped save the fish, by giving them a way to swim from Lehman Creek, where non-native fish were stocked and out-competed the Bonneville, to the overlooked Mill Creek. 

Not too far after Mill Creek, the trail enters the burned area of Strawberry Creek, which burned in August 2016.

You can find a superbloom of arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza saggita) on the hillside.

The burned trees make for some pretty silhouettes.

Rounding a corner, you can see Strawberry Creek down below, with the road near the creek. In the distance is the North Snake Range.

Some sections of the trail are a little rockier. The trail is more of an old road than a ditch at this point.

Post-fire flooding caused a small rock avalanche over part of the trail. It's not hard at all to cross.

There were multiple small streams to step over.

These little streams are the same size as what Strawberry Creek usually is. Passing four or five of them was impressive.

Continuing onward I saw more hillsides of yellow. It was also neat to see the small patches that escaped the fire.

A lone snow bank covered one section of trail. We had gone there the week before with nieces and nephews (from the Strawberry trailhead) and had so much fun sliding on it!

I then took the cutoff trail down to the Strawberry Creek parking area, then jumped across the creek (the pedestrian bridge is out) and headed up the Sage-Steppe trail. More wildflowers abounded!

I kept heading up the trail, finding even more water. 

Eventually, after some really steep sections and over 20 downed trees, I reached the pass. The other side is considered Willard Creek.

I had been up there about 17 or 18 years ago and had a faint memory of a two-track road. I found some very faint vestiges of it, but not much. I ran about a half mile on the Willard Creek side, then bushwhacked my way back up to the pass.

These diminutive white flowers were near the pass.

And there were a few snowbanks. The pass is at about 9,000 feet elevation.

Here's the Trail Closed sign on the Upper Strawberry sie.

Another beautiful white flower I need to look up.

In some sections, the trail is nearly grown over with vegetation! The interpretive park rangers have been telling people to go hike the trail, so that might help. On the way back, I saw about 20 people hiking.

It sure is a great trail to hike, especially this time of year when it's cooler and there are so many wildflowers.

It's also a cool experience to walk through the burned area and see how it's recovering.

The parking lot was fuller than I've ever seen it. I sure do recommend this hike! And once the higher country opens, there probably will be more parking available here.
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